MICHIGAN CITY – The "good" news is five of the six public school districts in La Porte County scored higher on ILEARN testing than the state average.
The bad news is the state average for grades 3-8 in the initial year of the new standardized testing was only 49.7 percent of students rated as "proficient."
The results were so bad, state education officials spent the last several days before test results were made public on Wednesday preparing to break the news, and trying to keep the first-year test results from negatively impacting schools.
“The Indiana Department of Education has been actively advocating for a new, modernized, state-legislated accountability system that is fair, accurate, and transparent," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick said. "... in response to the ILEARN results, we are proposing legislative action addressing the negative impact on educators, schools, districts, and communities."
Michigan City Area Schools had the worst scores in La Porte County, with only 36.6 percent of students rated "proficient." Of 2,274 students tested, 808 were "below proficiency"; 634 were "approaching proficiency"; 558 were "at proficiency"; and 274 were "above proficiency," according to results released Wednesday.
"Like districts across Indiana, we saw a decline in scores this fall," MCAS Supt. Barbara Eason-Watkins said. "The changing accountability measures adopted in our state continue to challenge both educators and students. We support our State Superintendent of Instruction and state legislators who are calling to exempt schools and teachers from punitive actions as we transition to this new test."
Eason-Watkins stressed that scores are just part of the learning experience.
"ILEARN data is just one element of our school improvement process. We use other methods (such as student work, classroom observation, unit tests, etc.) to focus on individual students – tracking their needs and their growth.
"We appreciate the partnership of the Indiana Department of Education as they work with our district to provide professional development for our teachers and help us align our curriculum to state standards."
While the scores for the La Porte Community School Corporation were higher – 55.3 rated proficient – Supt. Mark Francesconi didn't mince words in his criticism of the testing.
"... we anticipated that the scores would reflect an implementation dip and the LPCSC administration is in support of statewide efforts to hold schools, teachers, and students harmless from the scores.
"Despite the fact that scores for all La Porte Community School Corporation schools on ILEARN exceeded state averages for percent of students passing, we do not believe the scores reflect the level of teaching and learning that goes on in our schools, nor do they project the true potential of our students to succeed in life or be successful in college or careers they ultimately choose."
Of 2,662 La Porte students who took the test, 558 were rated not proficient, 632 were nearing proficiency, 873 were proficient and 599 were above proficiency.
But Francesconi said the state should focus on the classroom, not scores.
"The state is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on instructional methods, teacher salaries, and other resources as opposed to trying to find the 'magic' test that meets everyone's needs across the state and accurately measures student mastery and teacher effectiveness.
"Each year for the past several years there have been major changes in the test including: the name of the test, the company creating the test, the content of the test, and the procedures for administering the test. The reality is; there is no 'one size fits all' test."
Dr. Sandra M. Wood, superintendent of the MSD of New Durham Township, also feels the scores provide only a small part of the picture.
"The ILEARN test scores released today provide very limited information in regard to the proficiency and ability levels of the students at Westville Schools," she said.
A total of 397 Westville students took the test, and of those, 93 were below proficient, 104 were approaching, 142 were at proficiency, and 58 were above – overall 50.6 percent were rated proficient.
"While we do analyze the results and utilize this information to help inform our instructional practices, our teachers and staff utilize multiple other measures to develop individualized learning experiences for all of our students that are geared toward individual growth in the Indiana Academic Standards," Wood said.
"Our goal, as always, has been to prepare our students for the next level of their education, and we will continue to focus on formative, ongoing assessments in order to guide our students' progress and growth on the state standards."
ILEARN was created to replace the ISTEP+ testing, but the initial results were far from positive, McCormick said.
“When compared to past ISTEP+ scores, the scores for Indiana’s new assessment, ILEARN, indicated lower achievement levels across the state in both English/language arts and mathematics.
"The combination of the rigors associated with this newly aligned college and career readiness assessment, national normative data, and the defined established performance cuts all contributed to the lower performance levels. While frustrating, performance dips at some level were expected, as previously experienced in 2014-15 with the onset of the then newly implemented ISTEP+."
Dr. Paul White, superintendent of the New Prairie United School Corp., said he was pleased to see some improvement, but frustrated with the process.
New Prairie students had the highest scores in the area, and some of the highest in the state, with more than 60 percent rated as proficient. Of 1,345 students taking the test, 185 were not proficient, 353 were nearing proficieny, 477 were proficient and 330 were above proficiency.
"We're pleased to see we made some progress, compared to other area schools and the state as a whole," White said. "We have a new curriculum in place to teach these more rigorous standards ... We're not afraid of accountability. We believe in our teachers and our curriculum, and in preparing our students for the 21st century.""
But White thinks the process was flawed.
He said it should have been "very easily predictable on the state side that there would be implementation issues in the first year. Why not make that first year a practice year and put the hold harmless language in right away?"
He also thinks the fact that schools have to wait so long for scores – released this week for tests taken last spring – is unfair to schools and students.
"It's not fair to the kids – these tests were taken so long ago – that it's hard to use the data to make improvements right away. It's unfair to them to have to wait so long to see how they're doing."
To offset that, New Prairie and its teachers have started their own internal assessments, White said.
"We've started our own process of of assessing where the kids are at," he said. "We do this every other week or sometimes every week. Teachers get together and discuss things that need to be addressed.
"We will look at these scores and analyze the data, but we've already started discussions on what kids need and how to calibrate what teachers need to do to identify skills that are most important."
ILEARN (Indiana Learning Evaluation and Readiness Network) was developed to assess the same standards as ISTEP+, but with a redefined focus on college- and career-readiness, McCormick said.
“While the 2019 ILEARN results do not provide a true reflection of the performance of Indiana’s schools, they do once again show us the importance of developing a modernized state legislated accountability system that is fair, accurate, and transparent.
“With this in mind, the department will propose the following legislative actions: place a ‘hold harmless’ year on 2018-19 letter grades; pause intervention timeliness for schools; and provide the State Board of Education with emergency rulemaking authority to review and reestablish the state accountability system. The success and well being of our students, educators, and schools are dependent upon these actions.”
At its meeting Tuesday, the Indiana State Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution "to affirm that there will be no action to place school letter grades until the General Assembly explores how to ease the transition to ILEARN," according to board chairman B.J. Watts.
“In line with Gov. Holcomb’s call to hold harmless, the Board will not place school letter grades until the General Assembly takes the appropriate action to ensure this year’s ILEARN scores do not have an adverse impact on schools and teachers," he said. “Once action has been taken, the Board will hold a special meeting to assign those grades.”
La Porte's Francesconi is not a fan.
"Teachers know their students and we need to assess each student locally for growth in order to demonstrate that students are learning and teachers are effective. We should administer ACT and SAT preparation tests for our college-bound students so they can compete academically in college and qualify for scholarships. As for our career-bound students, we need to use certifications and other skills based assessments for the portfolios they produce for their future career.
"The superintendent's association and the superintendent of public instruction have taken a strong position against using the ILEARN results for accountability because of the poor results statewide. Locally we support the larger effort and will be advocating through our avenues for the same cause."
NOT MAKING THE GRADE
How La Porte County public school systems fared on the ILearn testing for grades 3-8, with district, number of students tested, and percentage rated proficient.
Michigan City Area Schools`2,274`36.6%
LaPorte Community Schools`2,662`55.3%
New Prairie United Schools`1,345`60.0%
MSD of New Durham Twp.`397`50.4%
S. Central Community Schools`402`49.3%
Total for State of Indiana`496,244`47.9%